How prostate cancer is diagnosed

November 14, 2014

Prostate cancer most commonly occurs among men in the later stages of life, and its diagnosis tends to be complex, involving numerous tests. Here's what to expect if you ever get diagnosed.

How prostate cancer is diagnosed

How will I be diagnosed?

There are generally two steps to diagnosing prostate cancer. Diagnosis can be quite hard in the early stages because prostate cancer does not have any visible or obvious symptoms.

  • Regardless, there are measures taken and tests that allow the doctor to determine the next stage of the diagnosis.
  • If the tests show that the patient is in danger, then the prostate autopsy is given the go-ahead.
  • The prostate autopsy is the official diagnosis, and whether you are officially diagnosed with prostate cancer is dependent on this stage.

What symptoms will my doctor ask about?

The first thing your doctor will do if he suspects you might have prostate cancer is ask whether or not you are experiencing any symptoms.

  • He might ask you whether you're having problems urinating or experiencing discomfort during sex—symptoms such as pain during urination, the presence of blood in your urine, multiple trips to the toilet, or erectile dysfunction.
  • He may also ask you questions about general pains in your hips, back and rib cage.

Which tests will my doctor run?

If you answer yes to any of these symptoms, the next step is a digital rectal exam (DRE).

  • The exam is to check to see whether a potential lump is identifiable from the rectum. The doctor will insert a finger into the rectum to see if anything questionable can be identified.
  • The exam is a good way for the doctor to assess whether a tumour has formed, as well as its positioning and stage of development. If something is found, more tests will be ordered.

The main test is what is known as the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test.

  • The PSA is mainly carried out to detect prostate cancer in symptomless patients, allowing doctors to identify the cancer and what stage it is in.
  • It also establishes whether the disease has spread from the prostate or is confined to the prostate gland.
  • The test will show a PSA level, and depending on how high the level is, it will reveal the spread of the cancer.

The doctor might then suggest a transrectal ultrasound (TRUS) in order to measure how big the prostate gland is.

  • The doctor will place a small probe that gives off sound waves into the rectum, and the waves will form an image on a screen.
  • The TRUS is also helpful for determining how the patient should be treated.


Presuming that the aforementioned tests show a likelihood that the patient has prostate cancer, the doctor may arrange for a prostate biopsy.

  • The biopsy takes about 10 minutes and involves removing a small piece of bodily tissue, which is then examined under a microscope.
  • The tissue is removed using a small needle that is inserted into the rectum and through to the prostate gland, and then sent for testing. The results will be the final determinant of the patient's diagnosis.
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